By the time the score gets to 38-0 or anywhere in that vicinity, the number of meaningful plays in a football game will dwindle.
But there was one for Fresno State late in its victory over New Mexico that was quite large and it illustrated as well as any this season how it goes from 1-11 a year ago to 4-2 with losses to two Top 10 teams and 3-0 and first place in the West Division of the Mountain West Conference.
It’s the 4th-and-goal from the Fresno State 3-yard line in the fourth quarter, 4:25 to go.
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There was a shutout on the line and the Lobos were going to try to bust it up not with a meaningless field goal but with a slightly less meaningless (to them) touchdown. But it meant plenty to the Bulldogs, who lined up needing to cover a lot of offense that New Mexico could run from that spot on the field.
It went misdirection and perhaps a run-pass option that ended up as a pass, a play that could cross up the Bulldogs a number of ways. For one, New Mexico runs it far more than it throws it when in the red zone, 80 percent of the time through its first five games. It would be easy to let the back side of the play get away from them when quarterback Tekava Tuioti rolled to his right. But when Tuioti spun back to his left and tried to get the football to running back Zahneer Shuler, there was nothing there.
The Bulldogs had it covered, front side and back side.
The pass was not close, a concession more than anything.
They just don’t often lose focus and the attention to detail there, the small things that come with the grind on the practice field through the week is the difference.
“It has been a process, from the spring to the summer to camp it has been a process, for sure,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “But the way we practice, we try to grind on the details and we have to continue to do that. The coaches are doing a great job of coaching them and putting them in a position and they play really hard. I think they appreciate the details, put it that way.
“They appreciate being coached. They appreciate the hard work. I see a team maturing. They don’t talk a lot. They’re focused about the job at hand. I’m proud of that maturation. But that doesn’t mean that you get giddy. That doesn’t mean we take the foot off the gas. We don’t. We focus on the details, on the preparation, because that’s really what it’s all about.”
The Bulldogs really just detailed the life out of the Lobos, who had come in off a 56-38 victory over Air Force in which they had rolled up 509 yards of offense on just 50 plays.
They stayed assignment-sound and disciplined and took away just about everything in defending the triple option.
Fresno State allowed New Mexico just 109 rushing yards on 37 plays, 2.9 yards per play. New Mexico had not gained fewer rushing yards in a game since it had 84 in a 49-14 loss at Texas Tech in 2012, and it had not been held to less than 3.0 yards per play since it averaged 2.8 in a 14-13 win over Utah State in 2015.
The Lobos also had thrived rushing the football on first down, averaging 6.7 yards a play, the best mark in the conference and the sixth best in the nation.
With that, they had been able to stay well clear of unfavorable down and distances and keep the sticks moving. They really had stayed away from third downs, period, running just 59 third-down plays in five games, the eighth fewest in the nation.
I think they appreciate the details, put it that way. They appreciate being coached. They appreciate the hard work.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford
But New Mexico ran the ball 15 times on first down against the Bulldogs and broke one for 10 yards, and it still averaged just 2.7 yards on those plays.
It ended up 2 of 14 on third downs (14.3 percent) and its average yards to gain to move the sticks was 6.8 yards.
When it had the football the Bulldogs took advantage of what the Lobos often gave them when leaving their corners in man-to-man match ups against KeeSean Johnson and Jamire Jordan outside, which is a daunting task.
Marcus McMaryion, rallying from a rough game at San Jose State, completed 13 of 23 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns.
Johnson caught five for 105 yards and one touchdown, Jordan three for 108 and two. And there were a couple of missed connections down the field that could have added considerably to the Bulldogs’ totals throwing the football.
“This game was the first time in a long time that we’ve got beaten this badly,” said New Mexico coach Bob Davie, after the Lobos were shut out for the first time in 67 games, since a 45-0 loss at Texas in 2012. “We didn’t see this coming. It was a tough night all the way around, and we give them credit.”
How far the Bulldogs can take this run becomes more intriguing by the week. New Mexico was a more difficult test than Nevada or San Jose State. Up next is a trip to San Diego State, the two-time defending Mountain West champion, which figures to be in a poor mood after losing on Saturday to Boise State.
But they know how to keep it working.
“I think we’re playing wonderful,” said safety Mike Bell, who had 10 tackles including eight solo, an interception and recovered a fumble. “I think we’re playing sound defense. On defense and offense, we’re doing our job.
“On defense, everybody knows their assignments and is focused on their assignments. I have to give it up to the offense because they’re playing lights out right now, my quarterback is playing lights out right now. I like what we’re doing on the field. I like that we’re connecting on all cylinders right now.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT SAN DIEGO STATE
- Saturday: 7:30 p.m. at SDCCU Stadium (54,000)
- Records: Bulldogs 4-2, 3-0 Mountain West; Aztecs 6-1, 2-1
- Webcast/radio: CBSSN/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: The Aztecs lost at home to Boise State on Saturday 31-14. The Broncos shut down running back Rashaad Penny, who has been the Mountain West offensive player of the week four times this season. Penny gained just 53 yards on 21 plays. Boise State scored one of its touchdowns on a punt return, another on a fumble return. San Diego State, the two-time defending conference champion, had just 323 total yards in the loss, 83 of it coming on the ground.